Overcoming Bill Shock on Private Meters

Friday February 16th, 2018

A strata manager from a large strata management company got a call from a disgruntled owner. Here’s the advice the strata manager needed to know.

“Whoa! $850 electricity bill for one quarter? How can that be? I only paid $200 for the last quarter.”

That was what one strata resident experienced last month. The culprit was an estimated meter read. When an old electricity meter is not physically read during the quarter, energy retailers still send the customer a bill which is a guess of how much energy they consumed in that quarter. To make the guess, they estimate how many people are living in that particular apartment and charge them accordingly.
The bill in this case came from Energy Australia. The guess was over 4 times as much as the previous bill sent to the same customer for the previous quarter.

The strata resident then called their strata manager to see if there was any reason why their meter was not read. The strata manager responded that the meter room was accessible from the street. (All that was needed was a national meter board key, known as an NMB key, to access the switch room)

Sometimes in strata buildings it is difficult for meter readers to get access to the meter room. It may require the meter reader to enter through a security door, walk through some fire corridors, enter a pin code into a secure lock-box, get a key for the meter room out and then enter the meter room.

In this particular case, there was no access issue for the meter reader.

However, few apartment residents or strata managers realise that energy retailers aren’t actually responsible for meter reads. The grid provider, such as Ausgrid or Energex needs to take care of that. The grid provider then sends the data to the apartment resident’s energy retailer. If no meter read is taken, the energy retailer uses a formula to predict the amount of energy consumed by the resident.

The next call for the Owner was to Energy Australia, where Energy Australia requested the resident to go and take their own meter read. This required pressing buttons on the meter to get different readings, taking photos and then attaching these photos to an email to send to Energy Australia. This is not ideal from a safety perspective for Owners in apartment buildings.

After sending through the photos, the owner was re-issued a bill of $200.

The Owner in this case wanted some compensation for the effort involved in doing a manual meter read.

Using Energy Australia’s very slow webchat service, the Owner was able to secure a $10 credit. However, the webchat channel dropped out and when reconnecting to a new webchat session, the new Energy Australia webchat operator had no record of the earlier webchat. This time the Owner requested a larger credit and was offered $50 credit for the manual meter read.

In 2018, perhaps its time for smart meters to be rolled out universally.

This article was contributed by Brent Clark, Strata Energy News .